A new effort to enroll low- and moderate-income undergraduates at colleges and universities with high graduation rates is being announced today in an attempt to have more students from modest backgrounds graduate from prestigious campuses seen as opening doors to top careers.
The effort, called the American Talent Initiative, aims to add 50,000 highly qualified students from modest backgrounds to campuses with high graduation rates by the year 2025. A group of 30 colleges and universities have signed on to the initiative, which is being coordinated by the nonprofit Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R. Bloomberg Philanthropies is providing $1.7 million over two years to start the project, money that won’t go directly to colleges and universities but will be used to fund research on their efforts and related activities.
Organizers hope to add more institutions, growing the list of participating universities to 80 next year and continuing to add to it in the future. Leaders describe the effort as a commitment to expanding access and boosting educational outcomes for students who aren’t from wealthy families but do have good grades and other markers of academic preparedness. In the initiative’s announcement, they even conjured images of well-known 20th-century legislation that expanded access to higher education like the GI Bill, the Higher Education Act and the Civil Rights Act.
The effort’s supporters believe it can drastically change who goes to college and their ability to attend the country’s top institutions. But some critics were unimpressed or underwhelmed. They pointed out that many of the participating institutions are private, wealthy colleges that have failed to enroll large numbers of low-income students in the past -- and that may have limited capacity to take on substantial numbers of such students in the future, since many of these institutions are committed to remaining relatively small. Others worried the effort may not spell out specific enough steps to boost enrollment of low-income students or call for an aggressive enough timeline to meet the needs of poor students today.